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Through the Red Door Blog

In the early days of the Church, when the front door of the parish was painted red it was said to signify sanctuary – that the ground beyond these doors was holy, and anyone who entered through them was safe from harm.

In the lives of many recovering people, it is through these same red doors that sanctuary is found on a daily basis. Initially that sanctuary may not have started in the rooms with high vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows, but in the basements and back rooms of churches where 12-step meetings are held.

This blog was created for recovering people to share the experiences they found walking through those doors of safety, refuge and peace.

To submit a entry to the blog, please click here for the details or contact us at info@episcopalrecovery.org.

  • 02/28/2018 7:48 PM | Anonymous

    I've been meditating a good deal lately on the alcoholic death, and how so very few of us experience even the beginnings of recovery.  I've heard so many stories about our kind drinking ourselves to death, killing ourselves in drunken car accidents, falling down flights of stairs, suffocating because we can't come to, or taking our own lives in lost hope. Such a small percentage of us can reach the precipice of insanity and death to discover the turning point. We come to know complete defeat - egos perfectly crushed by alcohol - and realize we've backed the wrong horse. Through a barely lucid surrender, we allow the spirit to take the helm. 

    So, why do some of us keep crawling into death?  Those of us who live are not special, unique, or chosen. It could have gone either way. I’ve settled on redemption after death.  Why would God's grace expire when our spirit and body have died?  It seems to me that those of us who cannot reach God on Earth can find recovery after human death.  God never gives up on any of us ever, even when we have given up on ourselves and our own lives.

    Lee H.

  • 02/21/2018 8:30 PM | Anonymous

    I mentioned recently how I came to undertake a careful look-see at the nature of my spiritual life in the program. Step 11 certainly called me to do so and, for that matter, the Big Book contains much on the subject. What troubled me, specifically, was how do I identify His Will. Most of the time I'm pretty careful when it comes to figuring out what the next "right thing" to do might be. I'd like to think that "the next right thing" might be God's thoughts on the matter, but that can't be all there is to it. After all, my ego can take on many different disguises and insert itself as the answer to what's right and what's wrong. I am aware of comments in the Book which call us to improve our moral fiber, to elevate our moral standards, and, importantly, to abandon reliance on my ego to guide my actions. Several years ago, my wife and I joined a group at our church devoted to study of the Rule of St. Benedict. After many discussion meetings centered on sharing thoughts about the previously selected book, a couple of retreats at cloistered spirituality centers, I've come to some conclusions that for me, at least, make sense and seem to provide comfort as I encounter life's bumps and grinds. 

    First, effectively using mediation to find God's Will in a specific case; it's a process. I don't just email or text God and ask for His help. It's a process that entails daily contemplation. I don't pretend that that daily process is taking place in my basement in a cloistered enclosure, but maybe a moment of silence and isolation assists. I believe, like our daily thoughts about the program, our surrender and the litany of working the Steps and each piece of the whole program provides a backdrop for finding Him and His Way. For many, daily maintenance of our program is always present, a daily habit. Accompanying those thoughts and action steps is, in my case anyway, a repetition of the Serenity Prayer ... I ask for "His Will for us and the power to carry it out." 

    Second, how do I identify His Will, which option do I select as His Will?  I've found that the search for "the next right thing" assists --  it's a good starting point. 

    Third, listen. Listen to others. Don't think you have all the answers and know His Will. Listen to experts, your sponsor, the group - bring the issue up as a discussion topic, and - be quiet and listen. When I do all this I have found that His Will, his answer, is the comfortable one, maybe it is usually that "next right thing." After all, the program calls on us to "improve our spiritual life, to discard the old thought processes and elevate our moral being. His Will is a calming feeling to me --  a serenity. "It just feels like the right thing to do in this situation."  And isn't this what the Program is all about. Isn't the basic program intended to bring not only sobriety, but serenity? ... "you will know peace and find serenity" ;the Big Book promises this if we but work at it. 

    Jim A.

    Covington, Kentucky

  • 02/08/2018 5:50 AM | Anonymous

    At a recent discussion meeting, I suggested the importance of the spiritual aspects of the program as the topic for discussion. I did so because without a strong spiritual base we jeopardize our sobriety and serenity. I had long attended church and remained a faithful and believing member throughout my "days of rage". I was cognizant of the words in the Big Book about our prayers and believed in their validity; in fact, the admonition to "seek the will of God for us" became central.

    But, alas, several years into sobriety, I experienced a good deal of uncomfortable anxiety. I increased my meeting schedule and listening and participating in the usual "discussion meetings" but something was still lacking. I contacted my sponsor and discussed this with him, a person who has long championed a strong spiritual base as a key to one's sobriety and serenity. I studied the available material and articles on the subject and I started concentrating on aspects of "surrender" ... "surrender" in the same sense as our surrender to the fact that we were powerless and needing help from something other than my own efforts.

    After a meditation program I grasped the fact that this "spiritual surrender" is as important as our "powerless surrender". I learned I'd have to "really mean it" when I took this second step in my search for His Will for us. Not a surrender with a "hedging of my bet" but an "all in" surrender. So what happened? ... no, my anxiety didn't disappear but it redefined itself by relieving me of the anxiety over my anxiety. That is, I became more comfortable with the problem. I spent time on how I might be able to work through the issue, knowing that sooner or later God would show the way. He did ... the problem was resolved and consequently my uncomfortable anxiety went away ... it was clearly a case of my ego still trying to control the situation. I had done all I could. I needed help and the program provided me the tools to search for the help I needed ... His Will was truly more powerful than my ego.

    So today, just as I ask for His Will to carry me through the day without drinking, so do I look for His Will and His Power to carry it out. The program supplied the tools for me to search for and ultimately find some serenity for an issue that was becoming a problem and for that I am grateful.

    Jim A.
    Covington Kentucky

  • 01/31/2018 8:10 PM | Anonymous

    Do you ever wonder where the 12 steps we so often repeat came from? Listen to this story.

    1934 Calvary Episcopal  Church New York, City

    The Rev. Dr. Sam Shoemaker has been rector of Calvary, for 10 years. He has developed Calvary House, a hostel and center for ministry and small groups in the city. He also runs Calvary Rescue Mission, a place for the “down and out” to get a meal and rest. Bill Wilson, an alcoholic New York stockbroker, visits there during his last days of drinking. Bill is influenced by Ebby Thacher, a friend who has become sober through a spiritual program called the Oxford Group led by Sam Shoemaker while Ebby meets at Calvary House.

    1935 Bill Wilson becomes sober and spends more time with Sam Shoemaker in his book-lined office talking with Shoemaker and attending Oxford Group meetings as well as visiting  at Calvary Mission and Calvary House. Dr. Shoemaker sends Bill a letter when he is 60 days sober thanking him for his help getting a chemistry professor sober.

     Later Bill Wilson says, “Every river has a wellspring at its source. AA is like that. In the beginning there was a spring which poured out of a clergyman, Dr. Samuel Shoemaker. He channeled to the few of us who then saw and heard him.. the loving concern, the Grace.. to walk in the Consciousness of God- to live and to love again, as never before. 4 Dr. Sam Shoemaker was one of AA’s indispensables. Had it not been for his ministry to us in our early time, our Fellowship would not be in existence today. Sam Shoemaker passed on the spiritual keys by which we were liberated. He was a co-founder of AA.”  The first three Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous were inspired in part by Shoemaker. “The early AA got its ideas of self-examination, acknowledgement of character defects, restitution for harm done, and working with others straight from the Oxford Groups and directly from Sam Shoemaker, their former leader in America, and no one else.” I am quoting Bill Wilson directly.

    So, Dr. Shoemaker provided a refuge for alcoholics in New York and directly influenced the Twelve Steps through his long and close friendship with Bill Wilson. 1.2,3

    You have heard from Bill Wilson. Now here are the words Sam Shoemaker later said.

    “I believe the church has a great deal to learn; not from any individual member of AA, but from the incredible collective experience of AA. I pray to God that what is happening pretty steadily and consistently throughout the fellowship could happen in every church. The AA fellowship is made up of people who are beginning to be changed, not saints, and not perfect. We in the church can all learn by this example and if we think we’re above it we are in real danger.”5

    Every January 31, the Episcopal Church remembers the ministry of this Episcopal priest in New York City who saved and changed the life of so many people at this service today.  One of my most spiritual moments was attending an AA meeting seven years ago in Sam Shoemaker’s office at Calvary.

    Perhaps you have seen an Episcopal presence in AA, but even more, perhaps you can see that Sam Shoemaker transmitted to AA a message, that it is all about love.. the same message we hope is transmitted  at every church and at every Eucharist.


    1. Dick B, "Calvary House and the Oxford Group,”  The Oxford Group and Alcoholics Anonymous, A Design for Living that Works, p. 114
    2. “A Biography of Sam Shoemaker,” AlcoholicAnonymous.org
    3. "A.A. Tributes Samuel Shoemaker "Co-founder" of A.A.," Dickb.com
    4. Karen Plavan, "A Talk on Samuel Moor Shoemaker," Calvary Episcopal Church, Pittsburg, January 31, 2010
    5. Michael Fitzpatrick, "Rev Sam Shoemaker, His Role in Early AA Part 11," Recoveryspeakers.com
    Joanna Seibert   joannaseibert.com

  • 01/24/2018 8:42 PM | Anonymous

    On St. Patrick’s Day, the city dyes Chicago River a brilliant hue no Kelly I know would claim for his own.  I’ll be there to attend a retreat with recovering men I’ve known for decades. I’ll also have tea with my former wife, the mother of my children. We’ve been estranged since our divorce a dozen years ago and this conversation is long in the making, though not overdue.

    We make cut ‘n’ dry amends for what we have done, or what we have failed to do.  But, when we perpetrate sins or shirk duties out of a lack character, well… we can’t exercise, can’t put to work what isn’t ours to summon.  Joan Didion1 wrote that “people with self-respect exhibit a certain toughness, a kind of moral nerve; … the willingness to accept responsibility for one's own life—is the source from which self-respect springs.” 1  I flubbed the play because I was never in the game.

    “To live without self-respect is to lie awake some night, counting up the sins of commission and omission, the trusts betrayed, the promises subtly broken, the gifts irrevocably wasted through sloth or cowardice or carelessness.” 1  Shame?  Guilt? Regardless, without self-respect, we stand empty-handed at every threshold.   There, I remained. 

    What then, might I now say to my darling-ago?  Words will come.  My determination arises from a long delayed appreciation of my childhood. My parents loved, nurtured, educated and entertained me, insured my place in the family circle.  I came unmoored, perhaps by circumstance, but not thorough any intent of theirs.  My education included the conviction that we are children of God: “God’s love sparked me into being. My life echoes His love. Inhabiting this love is my deepest need and my greatest desire.”2 This exalted belief implies a responsibility to myself, to my innate gifts and to the prospects that arise to use them. To show “the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life.”  

    Decades ago, I did not enter my third marriage with any such mandate, and my alcoholic bottom shortly followed our firstborn’s arrival.  In recovery, I acquired a grudging “willingness to accept responsibility”, but lacked “discipline, the sense that one lives by doing things one does not particularly want to do, by putting fears and doubts to one side, by weighing immediate comforts against the possibility of larger, even intangible, comforts.” 1  George Bernard Shaw described Oscar Wilde as, “…so in love with style that he never realized the danger of putting up more style than his matter could carry.  Wise kings wear shabby clothes, and leave the gold lace to the drum major.“3 Time heals; it also teaches. 

    If we even half-practice a rigorous honesty in recovery, eventually our egos crater and we are  “driven back upon oneself, …the one condition necessary to the beginnings of real self-respect.” 1  We discover that the “sense of one's intrinsic worth which constitutes self-respect, is potentially to have everything: the ability to discriminate, to love and to remain indifferent. … to free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves—there lies the great, the singular power of self-respect.” 1

    In college, Ms. Didion lost “the conviction that lights would always turn green for me, the pleasant certainty that those rather passive virtues which had won me approval as a child automatically guaranteed me… happiness, honor and a good husband.” We zealously cling to our innocent self-deceptions. Some of us drink and drug ourselves silly to perpetuate them. When we ultimately release, are finally released from them, we know a “new freedom and a new happiness”4 grounded in a newfound self worthy of respect, a self we protect, nurture and love.

    -Martin M.

    1 Self-Respect, its source, its power, Vogue, Joan Didion, August 1961

    2 First Principle and Foundation, The Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius of Loyola, interpretation, Martin McElroy, 2017

    3 Letter to Frank Harris, introducing a revised edition of Life of Wilde (1918)

    4 Alcoholics Anonymous (Big Book), AA World Services, Fourth Edition, 2002

  • 01/17/2018 9:39 PM | Anonymous

    I heard something a couple weeks back in a meeting that hit me between the eyes. "I'm a spiritual being having human experiences." I'd never heard that one before, as you guys probably have.  It made so much sense to me, and it's been rolling around my alcoholic brain ever since. My dad always told me that I would start paying attention to and caring about politics when I became a taxpayer. I care less about it now than I did when I was fifteen. I don't have any affinity for watching football, basketball, baseball, golf or any activities of their type. I tried to fake it for years.  

    My thinking runs counter to our societal values and conformity.  I'm not interested in hunting, fishing, or other stereotypical masculine pastimes, and, growing up and into my twenties and thirties, I always thought that my disinterest meant I was generally disinterested. I was a searcher, as my mother-in-law says, but I didn't have the rocks to be an all-out member of the counterculture.  

    So on and on, I developed low self-esteem, felt awkward and out of place, fell victim to fear and anxiety, and started the cycle of mental self-abuse. I was innately alcoholic on a cellular level. Then booze came along and introduced me to the two-drink smooth. It was literally magical.  Alcohol began doing for me what I could not do for myself. Low self-esteem, vaporized. Awkwardness, gone. Fear and anxiety, gone. As one of my favorite speakers says, all of the boxes were being checked. And so began the descent and ultimately the path back to the happy road with you guys. 

    I couldn't have understood back then that I was a spiritual being having human experiences. The journey is required to smash the ego and set the heart in a condition ready to accept the weight and depth of the spiritual life. It’s so clear now why I was the way I was. God does not make mistakes.

    -Lee H.

  • 01/10/2018 7:48 PM | Anonymous

    The Third Step of Alcoholics Anonymous states “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”

    As I sat at my Sponsor’s table and read these words, memories filled with pain and resentment washed over me. Recollections of bullying, self-righteousness, and hypocrisy poured out of me onto my patient Sponsor. He listened to my rant in silence. After I’d exhausted myself he said: “This isn’t about them. It’s about you.”

    I had admitted in Step One that I was powerless over Alcohol and Drugs. I had “come to believe” in Step Two that only a “power greater than myself could restore me to sanity.” Couldn’t that “power” be the 12-step program itself? “Yes” my sponsor smiled, “for now.”

    I started trying to pray. I asked “Whatever Was Out There” to help me stay clean and sober every morning and thanked my unnamed deity every evening for letting me go to bed without drinking or using. Within my first 90 days of recovery I found myself having to ask for help from my still unnamed higher power more and more often. I began to borrow the title “Spirit of the Universe” from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.

    Despite the many resentments I had towards organized religion, I have always been spiritually curious and aware. As I gained more time clean and sober, my recovery deepened, and I became comfortable calling my higher power “God”.

    I found myself having a greater willingness to expand my spiritual health. I read daily devotionals and meditation books, along with asking questions of “old-timers” in recovery who were walking spiritual paths that I admired. Although I respected their journeys and learned about different religious traditions from them, I couldn’t stop thinking of myself as a Christian.

    One beautiful spring day I decided that on my lunch break I would attend the mid-day Holy Eucharist service at my city’s Downtown Episcopal Cathedral. The service was in a small chapel off to the side, and there were but a few worshipers there that day. Yet, I felt a great sense of fellowship in the communal readings that we did from the Book of Common Prayer as a congregation, especially the Lord’s Prayer.

    For the first time in a long while, I felt “part-of,” rather than an outsider in a religious body. As I knelt at the alter rail to take the sacraments, I was overwhelmed with an emotion of a God that loved me so much that he sent his Son to us, a Son who endured barbarous agony out of love. Love for us, love for me. In that moment God didn’t seem distant, or “out there.” He was in the room with me, close to my pain, struggles and fears.

    I walked back to my pew and knelt in prayer. I reflected not just on God’s love through Jesus, but the love that Jesus’s mother, Mary, had for her son. She stood by him to the end, even after all those who had pledged their eternal loyalty had fled him, in a supreme act of unconditional love.

    I was struck that this was just the kind of love that I had received from my brothers and sisters in recovery. They had given me welcome and support from the first day I staggered, a beaten pulp of a man, into to their lives.

    When the Priest gave the Blessing: “In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” I found myself making the sign of the Cross like I belonged there.

    I walked out of the Chapel that day into the warm Sunlight of The Spirit. I’ve been walking with Christ ever since.

    -Greg S.

  • 01/03/2018 6:18 PM | Anonymous
    This is a response to the insightful reflection on anonymity as it is practiced in AA. 

    It is a painful spiritual maxim to embrace that a life-giving strength may also be a debilitating weakness. For example, do I give generously to bolster a weak sense of self and to receive the acclamation of others so that I might ignore the demons within me clamoring for attention?  Am I regarded as one who loves all because I cannot acknowledge that I do not love myself? As we grow in grace, we find that a loving confrontation with these realities is the path of growth in newness of life and in a more certain future of sober living.

    In my estimation, our rightly cherished anonymity remains sadly necessary because we live in a world where people are quick to demonize and slow to appropriately forgive. I believe our world would be better if we were all able to claim with a pride born out of genuine struggle and not self-service, that, yes, I am an alcoholic or an addict, and I have triumphed over this devil of despair.  I have triumphed not because of anything I have done, but because of the workings of a gracious God in me. And, I know many other people who have the same experience – Come, let me introduce you to them.  There is hope for you!

    We once lived in a world where mental illness was a source of embarrassment because it was ignored out of ill- founded shame.  We once lived in a world where cancer was not mentioned because of fear. We found that talking about these things gave us freedom to heal.  Would that we could begin to talk about addiction in the same spirit of freedom and hope – openly, confidently, generously, and graciously.

    Is this difficult?  Of course.  Is it necessary?  Absolutely.

  • 12/21/2017 10:19 PM | Anonymous
    A question that has come up regularly in the rooms is dating.  I do not mean 13th stepping.  I am referring to a normal activity of spending time with someone where there is a mutual attraction for the express purpose of an intimate relationship.  The question I am referring to is “do I date someone in the program or a ‘normie’?”  That exact question was posed to me by a fellow member while sitting at my kitchen table just recently.  “Good question” and a smile was my response.

    As with any significant decision, I ran through the pros and cons.  First, let’s consider dating someone else in a 12 step program.  One benefit would be that they get “it;” they know what the 12 steps are and can see the benefits of the program.  There's a common language!  In addition to that, they understand the wreckage of your past.  Our past can be difficult to explain.  In fact, as we put a few 24 hours behind us, new acquaintances may have a hard time understanding why we go to meetings.  We don’t “look” like alcoholics anymore.  Other concerns such as time with your sponsor, meetings, service responsibilities, usually do not require justification to someone else working the steps.  You also are usually safe using the term “Higher Power” without a second thought.

    So what could possibly go wrong?  Let’s look at the odds.  The divorce rate in the United States hovers between 40 and 50 percent.  While this is just dating, the statistic is relevant.  The most recent studies note that there is, at best, a 30 percent chance of long term recovery from addiction.  All we have is a daily reprieve from our disease based on the maintenance of our spiritual condition.  Recovery is not linear.  Having two people with a fatal disease in a relationship together means that the deck is stacked against them, from a probability standpoint.

    Of course, this is all predicated on the assumption that the two individuals considering a relationship enjoy an active, long term recovery program.  Things like step work, sponsors, sponsees, service work, 12-step work are all common place.  Newly sober folks (and not so new) have no business dragging the wreckage of their past into the life of another human being, period.  It's not fair to the other person and it’s time to stop taking hostages.

    “Check your motives, check your program, check with your sponsor” was advice I received early on and it has proved valuable.  Another gem was “you wouldn’t go shopping for a new car in a junk yard, so why would you look in AA for a partner?”

     In the spirit of full disclosure, I admit I have had relationships in and out of the program.  I managed to not drink through all of it.  I can't tell you, even for me, which is better.  I recommend finding someone that is spiritually healthy to date, program or not.  Things have gotten easier for me once I was able to accept the idea that if I truly cared about someone, I would only want them to be happy – with or without me.

  • 12/13/2017 5:14 PM | Anonymous

    Scene 1 – a rousing AA meeting (it gets personal!) on Tradition 11 - “Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films.” (and now, internet?)

    The 11th Tradition’s emphasis is not shame, but rather humility. Our spiritual foundation is not our “success” in recovery, but our humble gratitude; all our recoveries are as unmerited as any grace.  We share the badge of early Christians: “by their fruits you shall know them” (Matthew 7:16), and “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:35)  Our identity is in “God, as we understand Him”, and for me, Christ as Redeemer.

    Scene 2 – a small gathering of priests and laity to discuss diocesan resources for addiction/recovery

    “Why is a church, a faith community, less welcoming to alcoholics than a 12-Step meeting, or for that matter, a prison?”  Animated dialogue scribed the constraints and opportunities we face in recovery: our positions, our reputations, even our mere accessibility, either inhibit or invite addicts and alcoholics to avoid or approach us. Do we hoist our recovery banners, or are we to strike our colors, surrendering anonymously?

    Scene 3 – a documentary The Anonymous People, Greg D. Williams, 2013 (Amazon, YouTube)

    Advocating for 23.5 million recovering alcoholics and addicts, the National Addiction Foundation (65,000 members) and the Faces and Voices of Recovery (25,000 members) promote openness about recovery, to carry the message widely and lobby for legislative and community support.  They are well-meaning counterpoints to Alcoholics Anonymous’ 11th Tradition. The film features leaders in the contemporary movement, and reports on prior generations’ efforts to take recovery out of the shadows of shame, particularly in the late 1960’s when legislative support expanded insurance, treatment and research efforts (which were curbed in the 1980s-‘90s by the “war on drugs”).  The movement poses a fair assertion, exposed by Twitter, Instagram and identity theft,  “Addicts can’t find help unless we openly proclaim our recovery, our victory over our addictions!”

    Scene 4 – Donning coats in the vestibule after the late Sunday liturgy

    As my wife and I gathered our starving selves to scoot off for lunch, a parishioner arrested her hurried exit to ask a deeply personal question. “Oh, I should talk to you”, she said.  “I’m on my way to the hospital. My alcoholic brother is dying. We haven’t spoken in years and I don’t know what to do.  What can I say to him?” Thing is… how did she know to ask me, presumably as an alcoholic?  A sober alcoholic?  Moreover, if she knows, who else knows, and does the idea that “everybody will know” inhibit a drunk or an addict or their spouse or parents or kids from “reaching out to me for help or hope,” because, well… “everybody will know” if they do?  How vividly is my recovery on display?   

    Yes, I am the parish’s designated Recovery Resources Advocate and have responded to families in crises.  But, I am also a member of the parish, famous for Bandito Bean Chili, helpful with building repairs, active in stewardship, and an enthusiastic participant in liturgy.  All me.  My identity. 

    When I returned from Vietnam, I refused to be defined by that experience. I was drafted, served, returned – life goes on.  But, Vietnam was an event.  My alcoholism is intrinsic, as are my gifts and flaws, those gnarly snags in my character and the graces that offset them to bring joy to my work, love to my family and devotion to Christ.  My answer to the 11th Step riddle is the 3rd Step: … to turn to God as I encounter Him within the span of a day, regardless or the case or place or face before me.  “Lord, show me the work you are choosing for me this day, inviting me to do in humility and love. Amen.”

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